Quercus ellipsoidalis

Northern Pin Oak

Northern Pin Oak
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium and Emmet J. Judziewicz

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The natural history of the northwoods


  • Quercus, the Latin for Oak
  • ellipsoidalis, from the Greek, 'elleiyis (elleipsis), "ellipsoidal"
  • Common name from its close resemblance to the Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) and its more northerly range. Pin Oak is not native to Minnesota.
  • Other common names include Jack Oak, Hill's Oak


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Hamamelidae
        • Order Fagales
          • Family Fagaceae, the Beeches
            • Genus Quercus, the Oaks
            • Subgenus Erythrobalanus, the Red Oaks
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 19327
  • Known to hybridize with Red Oak (Quercus rubra)


  • A ¼, ½, ¾, º, é
  • Leaves alternate, simple, roughly elliptic, from 3-7 inches long, and slightly tapering or straight across at the base. The leaf stalks are from ½"-2½" long. The leaves have from 2-4 pairs of deeply incised lobes (cut about ½ of the distance in toward the mid-rib of the leaf) with sharply pointed bristle tips. They are dark green and mostly smooth on the upper surface and lighter green and smooth underneath.
  • Stem
    • Trunk lower trunk often with stubs of dead branches.
    • Bark grey to dark brown, shallowly fissured, with inner bark that is slightly orange in color.
    • Branches
    • Twigs dark reddish brown, (1-)1.5-3 mm diam., glabrous. Terminal buds dark reddish brown, ovoid, 3-5 mm, often conspicuously 5-angled in cross section, usually silvery- or tawny-pubescent toward apex. The twigs are dark reddish brown and slender with hairless terminal buds of the same color.
    • Bark dark gray-brown, shallowly fissured, inner bark orangish.
    • The buds are ovoid and about ¼" long.
  • Roots
  • Flowers monoecious, having both male and female flowers borne separately on the same tree. The staminate (male) flowers appear as catkins, and the pistillate (female) as groups of 2 - 3, or a solitary, inconspicuous hanging flowers. Flowers emerge as the leaves unfold in the spring.
  • Acorns are produced every other year. Each acorn requires two years to mature and ripens in October. They are produced on extremely short stalks, are longer than they are broad (less than 1/2 inch broad, and up to about 3/4 inch long), and are sharply pointed at the base. They are occasionally striped, smooth, and brown. The cup is reddish brown and covers from 1/3 to 1/2 of the nut.



  • Ontario-Minnesota border country to the UP, south to Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and extreme northwestern Ohio.


  • Dry sandy sites, rarely on moderately mesic slopes or uplands
  • Can maintain high rates of photosynthesis during drought and survive on nutrient-poor soils.
  • Upland xeric species that commonly grows on dry, acid, sandy soils with a very thin organic layer. It most often occurs on sandy plains and sandstone hills, and develops into extensive pure populations only on such sites.
  • Northern pin oak is very intolerant and does not reproduce under its own shade. The other oaks with which it is commonly associated are less light demanding and thus tend to succeed it. Successsion is toward a white oak-black oak-northern red oak and bur oak communities. In central Wisconsin, eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) is encroaching on northern pin oak communities. In parts of eastern Minnesota where pine is absent, northern pin oak forms an edaphic climax on poor sandy soils


  • Well adapted to fire. Northern pin oak is generally favored by fire. The thermal insulating properties of the bark of mature trees allow it to survive even annual burning. Smaller trees are easily damaged by surface fires but will sprout vigorously from the root collar or stump after top-kill. Fire has very little effect on pole-sized or larger northern pin oak.


  • Trees: Eastern Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), Pin Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica)
  • Shrubs: Green Alder (Alnus crispa), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), American Hazel (Corylus americana), Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), and Willow (Salix spp.)
  • Birds: acorns provide food for a variety of wildlife species including gray squirrels, white-tailed deer, and blue jays. Wood ducks, eastern kingbirds, and the federally endangered Kirtland's warbler utilize trunk cavities of northern pin oak as nesting sites


  • Menominee Food (Beverage) Roasted acorn ground for coffee.


  • Like several other oaks, northern pin oak can be used to make furniture, flooring, and interior finishing.
  • Hill's oak wood is heavy and strong. It is used in the manufacture of shingles and for interior finishing.


  • Sexual: Northern pin oak is monoecious. Seed production begins when the tree is about 20 years old. Good seed crops are not produced every year and in the off years many of the acorns are destroyed by weevils. Seed dissemination is by squirrels, blue jays, and gravity.
  • Vegetative: sprouts from the root collar or stump if top-killed or cut.
  • Flowering occurs from March to May. Staminate flowers develop from leaf buds of axils of the previous year, whereas the pistillate flowers develop from buds formed during the current year. The fruit ripens in 2 years; dispersal occurs from late August to early December


  • By seed


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Full sun
    • Well-drained soil, pH 6.1 - 7.5
    • Medium to dry
  • Size 30'-50'W x 60'H
  • Northern pin oak is susceptible to oak wilt caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. The disease is spread from tree to tree through root grafts and by sap-feeding beetles (Nitidulidae spp.)



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Last updated on 4 March, 2006